Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 29

I hope you enjoyed a month of ALL DOMINICAN EVERYTHING on the site. It was difficult to keep up because I was hit with an unexpected roadblock at work that rendered me too exhausted to update for almost two weeks! For that I apologize, but by the time this posts all of the backlog that I meant to entertain you with should be live on the site.

To close out the month (on a leap day, no less!), here are a few things I thought you'd like to know. A Jaded Dominican Family Trivia Cheat Sheet, if you will. And it goes a little something like this...

1- My great-grandmother, Ramona, once told me that putting my hands on my head would cause my mother to die. At school, our punishment for talking in class was to stand on our chairs with our hands on our heads. I was a bit of a chatterbox and got caught once. You can only imagine the waterfall of tears that old woman's superstitious threats caused me to shed!

2- My grandmother, Rafaela, used to bend the canned goods at the market on purpose, because dented cans were discounted. She was also notorious for opening bags of snacks in the aisles and giving us candy and grapes that we never paid for.

3- My grandfather, Miguel, used to leave his Brooklyn apartment every morning at about 5AM to work at an envelope factory in Union City, New Jersey. He'd be home by 4:30 every night. He finally retired in 1998 when he was finished building his house in Los Minas. My grandmother died in that house.

4- Because my grandmother was very poor in the Dominican Republic, she asked her sisters to look after Titi Gloris and my mom: the former going to Germania and the latter with Previstelia. Neither situation was ideal for my mom or aunt who were treated more like maids and governesses than nieces.

5- My uncle Julio joined the army after high school and left behind a young bride, Nina, that he married much to the chagrin of my grandparents. OH how they tortured that poor woman, just for being! She spent most of her time in Julio's old room crying.

6- My cousin Minerva was the first of us girls to move out on her own, against my grandfathers' wishes (y'all know girls can't leave unless it's for school or marriage!). She had the top floor of her paternal grandfather's brownstone in BedStuy and I thought it was the coolest apartment in the whole world. That arrangement didn't last long, though, and to this day I've not known her to live more than two or three blocks away from her mother.

7- I wasn't very pro-Dominican until I lived in Alfred, New York for a few weeks. All the non-brown faces, bland food and lack of merengue made me so desperate for home that I, Raquel Ivelisse Penzo, joined the Latino Student Union. I KNOW!! I never join anything; it's against my nature, but in that little group on campus, filled with people that I really didn't like, I felt safe. I felt like I was almost home.

8- When my sister, Marielys, was little, Mami sent her to the Dominican Republic to have her tonsils removed (an operation US doctors refused to perform). I don't recall how long she was gone, but when she came back not only had her Spanish improved drastically, but she had this undeniably "Acosta" stankness about her, as if she were above the law and reproach and couldn't be bothered with us mere mortals. It was hilarious. (PS- she's still like that, though. HAHAHA!)

9- I'll never forget going to one of Ks parent-teacher conference at PS 24 in Riverdale, New York. As is common at schools, they had all the kids' work displayed on the bulletin board. One assignment had the students' mini-bios...and K had written about what it felt like to be Puerto Rican. *RECORD SCRATCH* Exactly. I knew right there I needed to be a better Dominican mom!

10- N was conceived less that three months after Grandma died. When she was born and got her full coloring of deep chocolate, she looked so much like Grandma to us that I can only imagine their souls crossing paths- one on the way in and the other on the way out. I'd like to think N had conversations with Grandma before she was born, and that she got blessed with the essence of the strongest Dominican woman I've ever known.

*besos...grateful for my family and proud of our heritage*
we're a pretty awesome bunch as you can see. full of memories. great stories to last many lifetimes.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 28

I love traveling down memory lane with my family. And there's no better way to do that than through our old photos. A while back Mami gave me a bunch of old black & whites to have restored, matted and framed, and last night I looked through them again to assess the situation and reconcile that with my bank account.

Among the pictures I found this one:

It was so fitting to this month's theme. And even though I can't recall who this is or what concert we were attending (my mom & I were concert rats back in the day, just all up and through the backstage area like VIPs) this man holding that flag in that moment in time, filled me with a strange feeling that I can only describe as pride.

Some of you know my cousin Gregory, from the Penzo side, recently passed. I always cringe at having to deal with that part of my family and funerals are so not my thing, but as soon as I saw (on Facebook, of course!) that Gregory had died all I could think of was his mother, Suzy, and her heartache. As a mom I just know that having to bury a child is devastating. I can't imagine it. And she'd always been good to me, and is a classy lady, and all I wanted was to see her again and hug her and ask for her bendiciones.

I sat in the back of the funeral home (as faaaarrrrrrr away from the open casket as humanly possible and still be in the room) and searched the faces of everyone who came in. "Is that a cousin? Great-aunt? Are we related?" It was a longing I didn't even know was there. Strange. I always run screaming from anything Penzo and it took a funeral for a cousin that I hadn't seen since he was about 9 years old (he was 32 when he died) to realize that, as ratchet and ghetto and just UGH as my biological father's family is, they're my blood.

And as much as I try to deny it, I'm a little proud of that, too.

*besos...just for my Tia Suzy, who buried her baby boy yesterday*
I can't promise I'll stop making fun of them. in fact, I know I won't. but I think my days of denying my Penzo kin are behind me.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 27

Feliz Dia de la Independencia to all of my Dominicanos!! 

This marks the day when La Trinitaria declared independence from Haiti. My daughters and I usually celebrate by eating all the delicious foods our "motherland" has to offer and listening to great tunes. This year I will sneak in a history lesson.

If you're in NYC, there are some cool events going on all week:

Monday, Feb. 27, 3 to 5 p.m.
Celebrate Dominican-American culture and the 1940s Dominican Technicolor starlet Maria Montez, also known as the "Caribbean Cyclone," with elected officials Espaillat and City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, at Mamajuana Café, 247 Dyckman St.

Wednesday, Feb. 29, 7 to 11 p.m.
Join the DREAM Project for a fundraising event with honorary chairs Pulitzer-prize winning author Junot Díaz and Dominican actress Celines Toribio, as they mark the anniversary and raise funds for their mission to support the education of Dominican children. Hotel Americano, 518 West 27th St., between 10th and 11th avenues. Donation $150.

Thursday, March 1, 6:30 p.m.
Celebrate the Independence of the Dominican Republic at the Hispanic Society in Washington Heights as they honor the New York Dominican Officers Organization (NYDO), the Association of Dominican American Supervisors & Administrators (DASA) and the Dominican Bar Association. Mamajuana Café and Mama Sushi Restaurant co-sponsor the event. Hispanic Society, 613 West 155th St. RSVP to Juan Rosa at or 212-234-0551.

Read more here.

Now, please excuse me while I wave my flag in your face.

Dominican Republic LH

*besos...for my fellow countrymen today*
ps- you're all invited to my house for breakfast: mangu, queso frito, salchichon y un revoltillo de huevos!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 24

In NYC, Dominicans are mainly known for doing good hair, driving cabs, owning bodegas or playing baseball. And while we rock the hell out of all of those professions, we can do so much more.

David Medina is an amazing musicologist (yes, I said it, because that's what he is!) and sculptor. Julio Valdez paints some of the most beautiful canvases I've seen in a very long time. Sharon De La Cruz is also an artist, as well as a community activist. William Lantigua is the current Mayor of Lawrence, Massachusetts. Oscar de la Renta designs lovely apparel. And trust that many of us are successful professionals who keep your books, teach your kids, protect and serve, promote literacy, heal and nurture, build homes, entertain and yes, occasionally blow out your tresses, get you home safe, sell you milk at 3AM and win balls games.

Because we're awesome like that.

*besos...loving all the things we are and can be*
just in case you didn't know.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 23

You know what I learned when I was about 14 years old? That Washington Heights and pockets of New Jersey are not the only east cost enclaves where you'll find large percentages of Dominican immigrants. There's a small town in Essex County, Massachusetts- Lawrence- that I've affectionately named New England's Little DR.

I was introduced to Lawrence the summer before I started high school, after my mom shipped me up there. I suspect it was to keep me away from a boy who shall remain nameless, and I was beyond miserable at the thought of a whole summer without him.

With Nina, on our way to Drunkville
I showed up at my Tia Alba's house (she's actually my mom's cousin) with a permanent pout. The thought of being in a strange place with my baby cousins was just not how I expected 1989 to go. But then I met my cousins Nina and Mirna, and BOY did I change my tune. I love those heffas, and to this day Nina and I can't get enough of each other. She's definitely at the top of my Ride Or Die list. Oh, and she's insane. And beautiful. And can probably fit in my purse. And I love her do death.

But back to Lawrence. This is a small town. Very small. I believe I walked all over the entire town almost everyday that summer, and never broke a sweat. I learned to ride a bike in Lawrence (YES, at 14. Shut up!) and wrote sad, sappy letters to my beau back home while listening to New Edition records. I rode around with Nina in her car, acting silly and discussing most naughty things, and went with Mirna to bible study (her parents are Jehovah's Witnesses).

This was one of my first experiences playing outside and I am so lucky it was in a place with a million familiar Dominican faces. It really turned into a home away from home. I rarely thought of the beau and instead focused on the Acosta family I'd just met.

If you're ever looking for something to do on a long weekend, there are vans (run by Dominicans, or course. Proceed with caution.) that leave from Washington Heights and leave you at your door in Lawrence for about $60. Hop on the van, stay at the Holiday Inn Express in town and look up my family. They'll feed you, show you a good time and maybe give you a small taste of what it was like to have grown up like me.

Wonderful, beautiful, Dominican me.

*besos...realizing what a blessing in disguise that trip was*
what would I do without Tia and Nina and Mirna?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 22

I bet if I ask most of you to name films with, by or about Dominicans, you'd name some Zoe Saldana/Dania Ramirez train wreck. Listen, they are very beautiful women, yes. Are they good actresses? Well...let's not speak ill of these ladies during Dominican Heritage Month, okay?

Instead, let me direct your attention to a few films that will entertain you while showcasing some serious Dominican talent.

1. Sugar. CHILD. Y'all already know I love beisbol and I thought this was about to be just another sports film, but it was so much more. OH BOY was it so much more!

2. Raising Victor Vargas. The grandmother in this film cannot act for shit, but I loved her anyway. She really was every old person I ever grew up with.

3. Washington Heights. What? I mean, eventually the neighborhood was going to spawn a flick. Manny Perez did it justice, though. This was a solid film.

4. Mad Hot Ballroom. This is a documentary but it features real students from the Heights and OH MY GAWD it's completely adorable.

5. La Hija Natural. I never got to see this film when it came to NYC, but the premise and the trailer definitely piqued my interest. One of y'all come over this weekend and we'll watch it!

Also, in case you want a starter list of actors and actresses of Dominican Heritage to ogle at or admire (for their acting abilities), here's a tiny starter list I discovered online. Enjoy!

*besos...anxiously waiting to see my name on a movie poster or marquee*
it won't be long now before I'm on a list like this

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 21

This is Vick's Vapor Rub.

Growing up, this little blue jar cured all of our ills and then some. I remember having "vaporu" applied to my chest, back, throat, IN my nostrils, across my forehead and down the bridge of my nose. This was the surefire way to force all the phlegm out of the body. Apply hot washcloths to the chest and back that have vaporu on them and DING DING DING, instant cure for a cold or fever. A little sinus infection? Place some vaporu IN your nostrils and then sit in a steam room or with a towel over your head and your face over some boiled water (to get the steam all up your nose). This will also help.

This is Sancochito.

Not to be confused with my delicious meat stew, sancochito is a castor oil-based elixer that will not only cure asthma (it's true!) but force phlegm and other impurities out of your body, either through vomit or feces. Listen, I don't make this up. I'm just passing on the information. All I know is sancochito tastes like the fourth ring of hell but works like nobody's business.

This is Bergamot.

I'm not sure what it is but you put it in your hair to help it grow and thicken and shine. If you use the essential oil instead of the pomade it works even better. Just ask my cousin Vanessa whose mother used bergamot on the child daily...and Vanessa had hair almost down past her butt. It works!

This is Agua Florida.

Santeros use this stuff during "voodoo" rituals or healings and shit. OR it's a cologne used by Dominican grandmothers all over the world, sometimes rubbed into the skin to alleviate aches and pains. Fuck a BenGay- Agua Florida is all you need for your ouchies and honoring your household saints alike!

This is the Humphreys brand of medicines.

There's one for teething babies, for colds and to bring on your period (for late bloomers). There's even one to cure bed-wetting (I may have made that up. Or not. My memory is fuzzy from all the Humphrey's I was forced to take.) They, too, work like little pellet-shaped miracles. My medicine cabinet was FILTHY with Humphreys meds so I guess it works. At least, according to my dry, unstained mattress, it works.

I think this is all I'll share for now. Y'all ain't ready for the urine baths that bring down high fevers. You're not ready.

*besos...hoping this will help you stay well*
you laugh, but we were very healthy children. thanks to all this crap we had to ingest and the fact that we had no medical insurance.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 20

Fresh off the great beisbol victory in Santo Domingo during the Caribbean Series earlier this month, I'm now anxiously awaiting the start of the MLB season. Ahhh, nothing beats the smell of BASEBALL in the morning!

Besides anticipating what the Amazin' Mets are or aren't going to do this year, I also check the roster for all the teams to identify all of the Dominican players in both leagues. Why? Because I like to know who is representing our national sport to you puny Americans!

I won't list ALL the Dominicans for you here as there are SO MANY, but for my fellow NYers, here are the players who represent Quisqueya at CitiField and Yankee Stadium (not including non-roster folks):

Pedro Beato, Santo Dgo.
Jeurys Familia, Barahona
Frank Francisco, Santo Dgo.
Jenrry Mejia, Tabara Amisa
Ramon Ramirez, Puerto Plata
Armando Rodriguez, San Cristobal
Jordany Valdespin, San Pedro de Macoris
Juan Lagares, Constanza
Cesar Puello, La Romana

 Cesar Cabral, Sabana Grande de Palenque
Damaso Marte, Santo Dgo.
Ivan Nova, San Cristobal
Michael Pineda, Yaguate
Rafael Soriano, San Jose
Robinson Cano, San Pedro de Macoris
Eduardo Nunez, Santo Dgo.
Zoilo Almonte, Santo Dgo.
Melky Mesa, Bajos de Haina

Can't wait to see these fellas in action!!

*besos...waiting waiting waiting for the boys of summer*
I'm aiming to get to at least five games this year

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 17

Yesterday I asked where all the Dominican authors were. Apparently one of them looks back at me in the mirror every morning, and even search engines know it!

Get into my awesomeness, bitchezzzzz!

Wonderful, beautiful, Dominican me.

*besos...with a big ol swoled up ego*
I'm so conceited right now...I hardly know y'all anymore...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 16

I wanted to write a post highlighting all of the amazing Dominican Writers that you should all be reading, so I went to my trusty nemesis, Google, only to come up short. Only the usual suspects appeared: Junot Diaz, Julia Alvarez, and Loida Maritza Perez. I asked Mari if she knew any and she found the same, with the addition of essayists Silvio Torres Saillant and Ginetta Candelario. Just tumbleweeds all up and through my mission!

And in my search I also found an old forum discussion that sort-of-but-not-really answered the question: where are all the Dominican writers?

I don’t know how many of those in the forum are fluent in Spanish, given the fact that most of the threads are in English – but I wanted to comment that to me it’s interesting that most of the worthwhile writers of Dominican ancestry are writing in English.

To me it’s an interesting statement on the shift of Dominican identity from a country whose culture was rooted in Hispanic "criollismo" to one whose Diaspora sets the tone of cultural and political dialogue as much as it does affect the country’s economy.

Think of Dominican writers and it’s Junot Díaz and Julia Álvarez who will come to mind. They’re mostly U.S. educated, Americanized, second-generation voices of the “Dominican” experience.

I’m not saying that’s wrong. I’m saying that it reflects the intellectual stagnation of the half-island.

If you ask about writers in the Dominican Republic, most people would only know of political "caudillos" like Juan Bosch and Joaquín Balaguer. Bosch was a good short story writer; Balaguer just an OK writer. Both were mostly politicos. Both are dead.

There are really no major literary works coming from the Dominican Republic. For example, Colombians can speak of “One hundred years of Solitude” and Márquez. Mexicans can choose between Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz, Juan Rulfo, Mariano Azuela, Elena Poniatowska and many others. Chileans have Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral. Argentinians have Julio Cortázar and dozens others.

Dominicans can maybe cite Pedro Mir, but he’s not really that well-known outside the island; Salomé Ureña, but she lived a very, very long time ago; or Manuel de Jesús Galván, but he’s from as long a time ago as the period when Cuban poet José Martí was dreaming of one Latin America. In the last decade, Viriato Sención had some literary success, but that was mostly due to the political undertones of the book and the country’s fascination with Balaguer.

The point is, in my view, we do not have any transcendent literary masters in the country's language. The Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa had to come and write the only blockbuster Dominican-themed novel in Spanish, "La fiesta del chivo”. I hate him and admire him for it.

So the question I am throwing out there is why is there no real literary tradition in the Dominican Republic? Why are there not writers surfacing that could tell the country’s story in a way that is universally appealing? I don’t expect any definite answers, just sort of opening the discussion.

I blame the country’s poor educational system and sort of anti-literacy, anti-intellectualism mentality of its popular culture.

This person brought up many good points... those in the know- what say you? Where are our literary representatives??

*besos...wishing there were others to look up to*
Julia and Junot are great, but I hunger for more!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 15

Those of you NOT from New York City may have seen the neighborhood Washington Heights referenced on this blog often, and I apologize if I took for granted that a lot of you don't know about this dynamic place. We call it Little Dominican Republic or Quisqueya Heights because some 95% of the population in that upper Manhattan neighborhood is from the motherland.

Covering the areas from West 155th Street to Dyckman Street (or West 200th...even though it's not numbered it comes after West 199th Street), Washington Heights was always this wild and crazy place to me. It had tall buildings that housed enormous apartments (pre-War GORGEOUSNESS!), all the foods I loved right on every street corner, and the relatives that I hardly saw. Coming from a quiet (well, relatively quiet for Bed-Stuy) Brooklyn block, Washington Heights was like a 24-hour party place to Little Girl Jaded, and whenever we got to go I considered it a treat from heaven.

Great bit of history: the area was first inhabited by the Irish (there are still pubs all over the place up there), then European Jews, then Greeks and finally, Dominicans. Don't ask me WHY Dominicans chose this hilly enclave of the city to call home when they came to NYC en masse, but they did. The main strip on St. Nicholas has everything you could possibly need: food, liquor, hair salons and clothing boutiques. Last time I hung around there was a movie theater, but I'm not sure if it still stands. There's a concert hall on Broadway near the George Washington Bridge Bus Depot (connecting Manhattan to Fort Lee, New Jersey) where I saw Fernandito perform a while back. And the Malecon off of West 175th Street has some of the most delicious roasted chicken you will ever eat in your life. My old stylist's shop is up there (I miss you, Josie!!) and a lot of my pre-natal doctor visits (with Thug Boogie) were up there at Columbia-Presbyterian Children's Hospital- THE BEST PLACE to have your baby in NYC.

Next time you come to New York while on vacation, skip all the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Little Italy bullshit sightseeing, and hop the A or 1 trains to West 168th street. Have a pastelillo from a street vendor then go get your hair done. Hang out in Fort Tryon Park. Just immerse yourself in the beauty and craziness of the neighborhood. It might give you a small taste of what it was like to have grown up like me.

Wonderful, beautiful, Dominican me.

*besos...with a healthy dose of love and hate for Da Heights*
that area unnerves me and yet when I go there something just feels "right"

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 14

I'd be remiss to let this month of special posts go by without introducing y'all to Manuel "Minus P" Pimentel, the hilarious genius behind That's Dominican [dot] com. (Now, please note that to really get into his comedy videos you will need to speak Spanish. Sorry, gringos, but sometimes it just beeeezzzz that way.)

I first came across Minus P via his old MySpace blog way back in the day. He had the craziest stories and I loved to read about all his adventures on the road as a rapper, and the groupies that followed him around. Well color me psyched when I realized the funny man behind a clever video about the would-be terrorist caught in New York City back in November was the same crazy dude! I quickly became a fan all over again!

And in honor of St. Valentine's Day, child, get into this foolishness:

Besides the videos, though, the site is chock-full of information for our English-speaking homies: a glossary of Dominican slang (so you'll know when Mami is talking about you to your face) and interviews with some of our notables. So sit back with a tall frosty bottle of Presidente, practice yelling out EL DIACHE!!! and get one of your "Spanish" friends to translate the many funny videos from That's Dominican [dot] com, and it might give you a small taste of what it was like to have grown up like me.

Wonderful, beautiful, Dominican me.

*besos...for the funniest Dominicans outside of my family*
Like for real I wait for new videos like a crackhead SMH

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 13

Whatever his involvement in Trujillo's regime may or may not have been, this is my Abuelo, Candelario Acosta, and I love him!


Feliz Cumpleaños, Abuelo!

And I don't know if he likes Fernandito or not (but I mean, c'mon, who DOESN'T?!), but I'll dedicate this song to him today anyway :)

*besos...solamente para Abuelo*
can't wait to see him and the rest of the family this spring!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 10

"We are the champions, my friends, and we'll keep on fighting, til the end!"

Los Leones del Escogido have won the 2012 Caribbean Series. What a great way to prepare for the upcoming baseball season!

I wish I had been there to lose my mind in the stands with my fellow beisbol fans, but still... DAMN it feels good to be a part of a winning team for once!

*besos...feeling AMAZING right now*
first the Giants win the Super Bowl, now this. Oh my smile shall be grand all weekend long :)

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 9

courtesy of
 Growing up, no one in my family ever talked about Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, aka El Generalissimo. I never even knew of him until I was much older and in college. I always thought it was odd that certain family members felt disdain towards our Haitian neighbors but never bothered to ask why. After all, back in my day, children were seen and not heard, and you never ever questioned adults about adult business.

Also, my family members didn't get run off the Island. No one was in immediate danger with El Generalissimo's regime (that I know of) and simply came to New York "for a better life." Us kids had nothing to suspect.

So color me stupid when I found out about this huge black cloud that still hangs over our piece of Hispaniola:

Using the Army as his enforcer, Trujillo wasted no time in setting up a repressive dictatorship and organized a vast network of spies to eliminate any potential opponents. His henchmen did not hesitate to use intimidation, torture, or assassination of political foes to terrify and oppress the population to ensure his rule and amass his fortune. Before long he consolidated his power to such a degree that he began to treat the Dominican Republic as his own personal kingdom. He was so arrogant and confident that, after just six years at the head of government, Trujillo changed the name of the capital city from Santo Domingo (which name had existed for over 400 years), to Cuidad Trujillo (Trujillo City).

When I dug deeper, trying to understand where this animosity with/toward Haiti came from I found out that (besides there being tense relations since colonial days) even though Trujillo was of Haitian ancestry, he:

...never [hid] his racist ideas about the "inferiority and unattractiveness" of the black-skinned Haitians, so in 1937, after first negotiating an internationally lauded border agreement with Haiti's president, he ordered his army to oversee the massacre of all Haitians on the Dominican side of the border.

And how was El Generalissimo just allowed to be all Hitler-like and not start a war? Well for one, no one ever gave (gives) a shit about the Brown Nations. Let's just be real about that shit. And secondly:

courtesy of
Trujillo received American support of his leadership because he offered generous and favorable conditions to American businessmen wanting to invest in the Dominican Republic. More importantly to the U.S., after World War II, Trujillo showed his political support of the U.S.A.'s stand against the evils of communism.

As the information began to unfold before me, I realized that Abuelo was former military police, and while I was always so proud of his importance and great standing in the community- I mean imagine being 10 and having a maid, chauffeur, cook and armed guards at your door! I felt like royalty- it occurred to me that he would have been employed with Trujillo's government. The evil Raquel in me was all HELL YEAH, BITCHES! We BAAAAADDDDD MotherFuckers! Then the empathetic Raquel felt bad for all the people that never made it out alive from under Trujillo's boots. Like the Mirabal sisters. And then paranoid Raquel realized OH MY GOD! Those guards were there because my very 10-year-old life was in danger just by being related to this man! It was a lot to process.

I still don't know much about my family's experience under Trujillo. I fully intend to get more from them while I work on the biography of the Penzo, Acosta and Ortiz clans from whence I came. But for now, just know that Trujillo plays a role in my family, in every Dominican's family, and even if they said it wasn't really was. Perhaps nothing is more telling of how terrible it truly was than the deliberate silence I grew up with.

Pick up a copy of Julia Alvarez's "In The Time of the Butterflies" to read a fictionalized-realistic account of what life may have been like for my ancestors in the Dominican Republic, and why they don't ever mention it even today, and it might give you a small taste of what it was like to have grown up like me.

Wonderful, beautiful, Dominican me.

*besos...uncovering new mysteries everyday*
shout out to for helping a sista out with facts (as they were) n shit.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 8

Grandma was the best cook I ever knew. Whatever she made was like manna from heaven on a plate. I used to sit in a little chair in the kitchen sometimes and watch her move about with such confidence: a dab of this, a pinch of that, a handful of the other.

Everything from memory without books or measuring tools. It was like a choreography that I couldn't wait to learn.

Unfortunately I deluded myself into thinking Grandma would be with us forever and the only recipe I was able to hold on to was of her farina. Every time I make it, I am transported back to that Patchen Avenue apartment.

My Tia Gloris has done a great job mastering sancocho but still, I miss Grandma's rendition.

Luckily for me and other Dominican-Yorks like me who've neglected to save their family recipes, there's Tia Clara's Kitchen. This website has the most authentic dishes from my childhood and just now I decided to work my way through it, Julie and Julia style.

Why don't you get a bit adventurous and try cooking some Mondongo (tripe soup) with white rice and sliced avocados on the next cold and rainy night, and it might give you a small taste of what it was like to have grown up like me.

Wonderful, beautiful, Dominican me.

*besos...longing for the smell of old cooking grease*
nothing's yummier than chicken fried in grease that, just yesterday, was used for frying fish. YUM!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 7

Every memory I have in Brooklyn or in Santo Domingo revolves around music. As a kid I had loads of instruments: Mami was hard-pressed to turn me into a Latin jazz artist but I had zero aptitude for the wind instruments and zero patience for the strings. The bongos and congas, however, I fell in love with from jump. And I didn't ever make a coherent danceable rhythm emit from the skin of my drums, but I enjoyed numbing my hands in an attempt to do so. Oh, our poor neighbors!

Even today, if the music is percussion-based I love it to bits and pieces. It's a spiritual awakening. I lose myself in the beats and rhythms. There's no real way to describe it except to say I understand the term out-of-body-experience after having grown up around Island music. It's in my blood, as is the worshiping of saints that many of the musical genres represent. Listen, you can't just take a people from their home and expect them to assimilate 100 percent. Life will always find a way to survive (as we learned in "Jurassic Park").

From the Wiki page on Music of the Dominican Republic:

With roots in the Congo region of central-west Africa, palo shares much the same pantheon of deities/saints as the Afro-American religious traditions of Cuba, Brazil, Haiti and elsewhere in Latin America.

(There's also good [although poorly written] information and videos on the Colonial Zone DR website.)

Besides the music, a lot of my life revolved around some sort of religious ritual. So I was Dominican and Catholic, but more, as I found out when I started kindergarten. None of the other kids at Our Lady of Bedford-Stuyvesant School (yes, that was its real name. Shut up.) had two sets of godparents, and they didn’t promote two baptisms in religion class, either. No one else had a tiny statue of Maria Lionza, brought to them all the way from Venezuela, whom my sister was supposedly named after many years after it came to my house, on the bookshelf with a fresh glass of holy water and fresh flowers every week in their house. They didn’t even know who she was.

I'm not saying we were santeros, but we did santeria-ish things. And the music tied it all in together in a nice neat bow.

Visit your local botanica and play a few songs by Carlito El Palero or some of the Fania All-Stars (I'll discuss them later this month) of the 70s and 80s, and it might give you a small taste of what it was like to have grown up like me.

Wonderful, beautiful, Dominican me.

* candles in a drum circle*
ay, a little extra help never hurt anyone

Monday, February 06, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 6

One of my fondest memories of the Dominican Republic was when I traveled there at age 10 with my Tia Nancy and her family. I was to spend the bulk of my time with my Acosta relatives, but first I spent time with Tia Nancy's people and it was such a difference from the usual Penzos I was used to. This was when I realized she had a different dad from my father (her maiden name was Tolentino) and I was really jealous. I wanted to be a part of that household- they were warm, welcoming and fun. Just like Tia Nancy.

While I was with her, Tia took me to La Romana and it was officially the most beautiful and pristine place I've ever seen in my life. I had fresh limeade- I always remember that- actually watched as this woman pulled limes off of a tree and made my drink, and ate a burger with GREEN tomatoes!

And there was a boy (isn't there always?) I was all of ten but I still had crushes. And he was so dreamy. He'd walk around in shorts, no shirt and a small portable Casio keyboard that he'd play random tunes on. Oh how I wanted to be his muse! Once, my cousins and I went to this place that I suppose was some sort of swimming hole, I can't really remember it well, but he was there playing a tune on his Casio, at least that's how my memories are recalling it, and I was so at peace with my life at that moment. I remember that feeling and reach for it often.

At my Acosta Family Compound I experienced a whole other style of living- more pretension that I had expected, but still fun (despite the armed guards, chaperones, thieving maids and visible firearms all over the place). I was taken to a salon for my first relaxer (against my mother's wishes!), played jacks in the road, went to a discotheque (at age ten, BITCHES!), went shopping at fancy boutiques and watched as a local artisan made me the most adorable ceramic poodle. It was definitely a life I could have become accustomed to. Well, except for having to grab chickens out of the yard for slaughtering. That I can live my entire life without ever seeing again, EVER.

I then went to stay with my Tia CruzDelia and visit with my Ortiz family. Again, a whole different style of life. Tia lived in a shack with a tin roof, a latrine out back and just the dirt ground for a floor. But I was ten so of course I had the time of my life at her house, too. I also noticed that my cousins were wearing a lot of clothes that looked familiar- my hand-me-downs that I'd seen Mami pack in a suitcase and ship down earlier that year. I knew that in Brooklyn we were poor, but the fact that my relatives on the Island were waiting anxiously for my cast-offs (perfectly good clothes that I just decided I no longer wanted, like a spoiled diva) made me grateful for what I had back home.

SIDE NOTE: years later Tia CruzDelia came to visit us in Brooklyn and apologized to me for the conditions of her home after seeing my room. "Tu vives como una princesa y yo te tenia en ese sucio!" I felt so embarrassed at ever complaining about not having stuff. I did live like a princess and I felt bad that Tia felt bad, and can only hope I didn't act like a brat in her home. I really did have fun with her and the new cousins I discovered that I never knew about. And Tia CruzDelia looked just like Grandma so just being around her made me feel at home.

On the flight home, back when American Airlines fed you real food, I had my fist taste of pancakes wrapped around a sausage link and realized the two were meant to be together always. I was also introduced to the uniquely Dominican tradition of applauding after every safe landing. That trip improved my Spanish, my bond to my entire family, my appreciation for what I had at home and made me feel this connection that wasn't there before. These were my people. This was where we came from. This is where it began. Even though I wasn't born there I felt as if I were HOME.

I cried when I had to come back to New York. I wanted to stay there forever.

Visit La Romana and even though it's probably all built up now, it might give you a small taste of what it was like to have grown up like me.

Wonderful, beautiful, Dominican me.

*besos...with a sudden urge to call my Tias*
amazing how life makes you forget who and what is really important sometimes. I miss my family- and how close we used to be- a lot.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Jaded Photographs: February 2012 Edition

"Babies In Paradise"

*besos...desde Quisqueya*
look at how ADORABLE my mini-mes look prancing about DR; like they're HOME :)

Friday, February 03, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 3

We used to have killer parties when I was little. I mean apartments overstuffed with drunk adults (some of which owned and/or worked at the local bodegas) and rowdy kids, louder than loud music and FOOOOOODDDDDDD and ALCOHOL for days and days and days. These parties are where I learned how to dance, which relatives were true alcoholics, that Heineken is truly bitter and gross, and Mami is the hostess with the mostest.

In all the years that she hosted get-togethers in our apartment(s) at 572 Greene Avenue (between Marcy and Tompkins, BITCHES!) no one ever left hungry or unpleased, and Mami was never visibly intoxicated. We may have stressed beyond belief to get the place clean and cook everything just right, but all of our parties were a success. Honestly, this is an inherently Dominican thing. The capias, trays of roast pork, yellow rice, potato salad and refrescos.

-¿Y quien hizo el bizcocho?

It didn't really matter because we ate that cake like it was the last cake to ever hit the bottom of our bellies- mostly frosting, heavy and filled with pineapple with a scoop of generic vanilla ice cream on the side.

I don't really know what parties were like on the Island; in Brooklyn, though, us Dominicans partied like it was 1999 all the damn time. The conversations were great and gossipy; someone always fell asleep long before it was over; the movements on the dance floor was borderline inappropriate- I can name a few uncles that made me want to hide in my room- and you could always count on Grandma and Papi cutting a rug at least once, Grandma with her hands in the air like she don't care and everyone cheering her on. Sometimes Mari's dad and godfather would grab maracas and the cheese grater from the kitchen (to use as a guira) and belt out a few tunes. Us kids would roll our eyes like it was embarrassing but really it made the party that much more fun. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who dreamed of the day I could host parties like Mami.

Do me a favor: invite 50 to 60 of your closest friends to your place. Serve them mounds of yummies that will clog their arteries and libations that will kill their evil livers. Order a cake from Valencia Bakery in the Bronx and then put together a music playlist similar to this one for the night of the festivities:

It might give you a small taste of what it was like to have grown up like me.

Wonderful, beautiful, Dominican me.

*besos...realizing what an amazing childhood I had*
really, though, no one had more fun than we did. no one. our parties were legendary!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 2

Being a Dominican from Bed-Stuy had its pros and cons. PRO: I didn't have to deal with the ratchetness that was Washington Heights. Because there weren't many of us for miles around we kept to ourselves and lived rather peacefully. CON: I didn't get to be one of those kids that was shipped to DR every summer for fun in the sun. In fact, I've only been there three times in my entire life. THREE TIMES!

Us kids did manage to stay connected to the Island not only through our elders (who watched us like hawks!) but through a great program called "Santo Domingo Invita." Every week hosts like Negro Santos took us to different regions of the Dominican Republic and made us long for fresh guavas and coconut water, fish and goat (yes, goat. Child, don't ask!).

And the music! Musica tipica Dominicana, as hokey as it may sound (an accordion, dude; that shit includes a very prominent accordion.), moved me.

Most of what I learned about DR was learned on the weekends, thanks to "Santo Domingo Invita." I didn't know it at the time, but it was instilling in me and sense of pride in the place from which my people came. There's always been room in my cold, Jaded, American heart for the Dominican Republic and "Santo Domingo Invita" made that happen.

Take a minute and look for Santo Domingo Invita in your TV Guide. Watch an episode or two, whether or not you speak Spanish. It might give you a small taste of what it was like to have grown up like me.

Wonderful, beautiful, Dominican me.

*besos...wondering if I can watch this streaming online*
you know, N already has two out of the three instruments needed for a "traditional" merengue band; she's only missing the accordion. thank god!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 1

Hi, I'm Raquel (don't forget to roll that R!) Ivelisse (pronounced ee-veh-LEE-seh) and I'm of Dominican ancestry, first generation of my family born in these United States of America. This means Spanish was my first language and I was well-versed in many (but definitely not all) Dominican customs and traditions by my stay-at-home grandmother, Rafaela "Fela" Bermudez Ortiz (God rest her soul), who raised us kids while our parents worked nine-to-fives. When I was little my world consisted of whatever was encased within the walls of my grandmother's home; that was all I knew. I wrote about it briefly in a small piece called I Used To Only Be Dominican. Read it and then come back. We'll wait for you.

Ready? OK.

This month, New York State honors our heritage (although good luck finding events outside of the Bronx. WOMP.) and I realized that in the five years of having this blog I've done very little to educate y'all on the beautiful people whose blood courses through me. And yes, I know it's Black History Month, too, but that mostly celebrates the accomplishments of African-Americans. Dominicans are African, too, but not from this part of America, you feel me? So I'm gonna go ahead and assume you've had your fill of tales about MLK and Malcolm and all those cool cats, and expose you to some tidbits of Island history, mythology, culture and let's face it, tomfoolery.

Today, however, all you need to know is that los Leones del Escogido are representing the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Series (February 2 - 8), which is being held in Santo Domingo. Damn I wish I were there!

You should also go to your library or local bookstore and pick up one of Junot Diaz's books. He DID win a Pulitzer Prize, you know. The least you could do is see for yourself why this Dominicano ROCKS the literary world.

Finally, look up singer and band leader Johnny Ventura, one of my favorite Dominican artists of all time. Play some of his songs while dancing with wild abandon in your living room. It might give you a small taste of what it was like to have grown up like me.

Wonderful, beautiful, Dominican me.

*besos...hoping you stay for the full ride*
and if you don't it's not like I'll notice anyway...